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An IranAir A330-200, EP-IJB, departing Frankfurt. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

IranAir Expands European Footprint Following Brief Flight Ban

IranAir is planning to add an additional route to Europe next month when it begins flying between Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport and Manchester Airport in central England. The new service will operate every week on Sundays, with the inaugural flight scheduled for July 4.

The new flight will be operated by the airline’s Airbus A330 fleet, featuring 32 business class seats and 238 economy seats. The weekly Manchester service will complement the airline’s existing three weekly flights between Imam Khomeini Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport.

Beginning in July, the Iranian flag carrier will offer 4,320 seats between England and Iran, a 12.5% increase thanks to the new Manchester flights. IranAir is currently the only airline connecting the two countries nonstop after British Airways suspended its Tehran route in September 2018.

The Tehran to Manchester route is not a big one, according to Anna Aero. Twenty thousand people traveled between the two cities in 2019, with the majority connecting in Istanbul. The new IranAir route focuses specifically on point-to-point flyers. Between now and the end of December, IranAir will offer 14,820 seats on the route if the carrier’s A330 is used year-round.

Flights to Manchester come at an interesting time, as international passengers entering the U.K. will be forced to quarantine for two weeks in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The two-week quarantine is currently being challenged by major airlines operating in the country, including British Airways and Ryanair.

In 2019, IranAir flew 25% fewer seats between Tehran and Europe compared to 2018, according to Anna Aero. This new route, however, also shows that Iran is committed to expanding its presence in Europe after briefly being banned from flying to the continent in March.

Banned From European Skies for 48 Hours

European aviation authorities banned all IranAir aircraft from entering European airspace on March 9 after initially banning the carrier’s new aircraft, citing safety issues related to software the jets used. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) first banned the airline’s two new A330-200s and its sole Airbus A321 from entering its airspace on Feb. 3 because they were using outdated software.

Between the February ruling by the EASA and March 9, the airline scheduled its older Airbus A300 and Airbus A310 aircraft to continue serving its European route network.

It is unclear what led to the sudden ban of all IranAir jets, including its older Airbus jets, to Europe on March 9 with neither IranAir nor EASA citing the COVID-19 crisis as the cause.

During the brief period of time when sanctions were eased following the Iran nuclear deal, the nation’s state-owned airline was able to acquire multiple brand new aircraft including one A321, two A330s and 13 ATR 72s, with plans to overhaul its entire fleet. Shortly after the U.S. withdrew from the deal, sanctions were re-imposed on the Middle Eastern country, and IranAir was no longer able to acquire new aircraft or materials to support its new fleet from European suppliers and manufacturers such as Airbus.

As a result, IranAir was unable to perform crucial software updates to its new Airbus aircraft when updates became available and necessary.

Asadani Samani, secretary of the Association of Iranian Airlines, blamed the brief pause of operations on the U.S. sanctions.

“The Europeans have put in place regulations for passenger and cargo flights to various destinations, and these laws and regulations are conditional on having software exclusively owned by the U.S., and they will not supply it to Iran, which is why I say banning IranAir flights to Europe has nothing to do with the coronavirus,” Samani said in a statement to local media in early March.

The short ban, however, only lasted 48 hours as Iranian officials quickly came to a resolution with European authorities. Flights between Iran and the European continent resumed on March 11, initially with the airline’s older Airbus A320 fleet.

Both Airbus A330 aircraft owned by IranAir have once again been allowed to fly in Europe and currently operate the bulk of the airline’s European services. EP-IFA, the airline’s A321, however, remains grounded in Tehran as it awaits its software update.

Mateen Kontoravdis
Mateen Kontoravdis
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